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Normal Council Approves Key Elements of Rivian Expansion

Normal Town Council meets remotely Monday, May 3, 2021.
The Normal Town Council met remotely on Monday, May 3, 2021.

Just a month shy of sending its first mass-produced electric trucks off the production line, Rivian’s Twin City footprint is growing: On Monday, the Normal Town Council gave the manufacturing facility’s expansion an overwhelming thumbs up.

At its virtual meeting, the council approved several Rivian-related items, each on a 6-0 vote. Mayor Chris Koos was absent.

Topping the approval list was Normal annexing into town limits 380 acres of unincorporated McLean County property recently purchased by Rivian. The council then voted to rezone 320 acres of that land, which surrounds 419 N. Rivian Motorway, for manufacturing. The council also gave preliminary approval to upgrades planned for the company’s main Normal site at 100 N. Rivian Motorway.

Several council members took time Monday night to praise Rivian’s success, and the associated benefits to the town.

“There is no question Rivian is a game-changer, not only for our community, but really for our region,” said council member Scott Preston.

Normal was the only county municipality that could annex the property because it is contiguous to the town’s limits, said Brian Day, Normal’s legal counsel.

The town council also abated the levy of Rivian’s 2020 property tax -- part of a five-year abatement agreement included in a 2016 incentive package for the Irvine, Calif.-based automaker to set up at the Normal plant that previously was home to Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing of North America.

“This is just the town meeting our end of the agreement,” noted City Manager Pam Reece.

Although the abatement means about $103,000 in lost tax revenue for FY 2021, an economic development specialist told the council that Normal comes out way ahead, considering the more than $300 million of investment and nearly 1,500 full-time jobs Rivian has brought to the town, so far.

Patrick Hoban, who heads the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said Rivian’s been so successful recently, it’s already surpassed the obligations for next year’s abatement. “Really, they’ve met this year’s and next year’s based on the rapid employment and hiring,” he said. “To say this is a successful plan is an understatement."

Plant Communications Director Zach Dietmeier told the council that as of Monday, the Normal plant has surpassed 1,400 employees. “We’re adding about 50 to 80 employees a week at the pace we’re on,” he said.

In addition, he noted about 90 construction projects have taken place on site. At its peak, the construction work drew in the neighborhood of an additional 1,800 construction jobs, said Dietmeier.

Council member Kevin McCarthy, who served as mayor pro tem in Koos’ absence, also praised Rivian after the votes.

He said recent building permit applications showed more than $18 million in Rivian-specific construction projects in town. McCarthy said more than $1 million in building permits for new home construction and home renovations in Normal shows the positive ripple effects the automaker's continued growth means for the community.

“It’s amazing we’re having success and activity that many of our peers are not having, particularly here in the state of Illinois. I think it's something we need to continue to appreciate -- appreciate how fortunate we are for what’s happening” he said.

The amended Rivian site plan for its current facility, which the council conditionally approved, calls for adding 100,000 square feet in the main facility by constructing two additions. It also details plans for a 60,000-square-foot solar-powered canopy for charging vehicles, as well as an access to College Avenue.

This last item led to council member Stan Nord raising questions whether Rivian should help pay for a major study on planned its West College Avenue redesign. But fellow council members quickly dismissed his concerns as premature. City staff said the issue is complicated by which entity would do its construction project first, but they'd revisit the issue at a more appropriate time.

Council member Kathleen Lorenz criticized Nord for “getting in the weeds,” and not celebrating the enormous success of a company like Rivian wanting to locate and then expand in Normal. “The idea is such a slap in the face,” she said.

Housing assistance gets boost

In another matter, the council voted 6-0, as part of its consensus agenda, to approve Normal’s 2021-2022 action plan for how it will use its federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funding. There was no discussion, but council materials did outline important changes coming to two of Normal’s key housing assistance programs:

  • Homebuyers eligible for the town’s CDGB-fueled down payment assistance program will see aid bumped from $3,000 to $5,000. That’s the first such increase in two decades.
  • Starting next month, CDGB’s separate Coranavirus-relief (CDBG-CV) funds also will offer more: maximum allotments to eligible households jump from $3,000 to $6,000, and the period of possible aid increases from three to six months.

Part of a larger, five-year CDGB action plan, this second-year outline shows how the town intends to spend the nearly $450,000 federal allocation by March 2022.
In addition, Normal currently has $380,000 available from separate CDBG-CV funds, part of the federal CARES act. The money target pandemic-related challenges to paying housing and utility bills -- a need area experts project will only grow this year as moratoriums are lifted.

Both CDBG programs are handled locally by town staff, in partnership with several social service organizations. They support low- to middle-income residents in their efforts to find and keep affordable, safe housing, and accessing legal assistance and economic opportunities, according to council materials.

Prior to Monday's vote, the council heard public comments from representative partners, including Prairie State Legal Services, the Community Health Care Clinic, and the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

$1.1M for street resurfacing

Also Monday, in a 6-0 vote, the council awarded a contract worth more than $1.1 million to Pontiac-based H.J. Eppel & Co., Inc. for the town’s 2021 general street resurfacing program.

The work, which runs this month through October, includes stretches of 15 streets. Some factors considered in the selection process included road condition, traffic levels and cost, according to council materials.

Resurfacing is planned for the following:

  • Bakewell Avenue (Marian to Summit; and Fairview to Orlando)
  • Summit Street (School to Fell; and Walnut to Beech)
  • Crestwood Court
  • Charlotte Drive
  • North Walnut Street (Lincoln to Shelbourne)
  • Bright Drive
  • Tilden Place
  • North Maple Street (Summit Street to north of Summit Street)
  • Roland Drive
  • Chester Drive
  • Ironwood Drive (Foxwood Run to #604)
  • Tanger Court
  • Hanson Drive (west of Windsor to Blair)

In other business, the council:

  • Reapproved Greystone Fields’ preliminary subdivision plan, with a 6-0 vote. The council then conditionally approved the nearly 6.5-acre final plat that’s the second addition to the neighborhood. Near Normal West Community High School, the plat adds 23 lots for single-family detached homes.
  • Renewed for $1, the lease for Illinois State Rep. Dan Brady and for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, for their shared office at 104 W. North St. in Uptown.. The lease runs through the Republican lawmakers’ terms ending in 2023. Normal sees the arrangement as a public service, and has provided the space to previous lawmakers as well. The vote was 5-1, with Nord opposing.
  • OK’d spending $86,140 to buy a specialized Ford F-550, for handling trash pickup at Normal parks. Bidding requirements were waived to accept the low bid from Missouri’s Key Equipment & Supply Co. The vote was 5-1; with Nord opposing.

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Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.